Netflix has been under fire as of late, with upset audiences citing purposely incendiary approaches to sensitive (and at times, graphic) material. The outcry to ’13 Reasons Why’ is a prime example, something the reactions to ‘To The Bone’ were beginning to resemble even before its actual release on the streaming service. But for those who have expressed concerns, there’s no need here.
Yes, be warned there is some imagery that can be triggering to those with an eating disorder (there’s obviously quite a bit of body image, a small amount of blood and a scene towards the end that borders on force feeding), but no, this film decidedly does not glorify any of it. It doesn’t splash these images across the screen purely for shock value. It may make some viewers uncomfortable, but it isn’t meant to offend or belittle anyone’s experiences. In fact, it’s raw and almost harsh in its honesty, and while that sort of tone may rub some people the wrong way, it felt more real and relatable to me personally.
Director Marti Noxon has spoken out about having suffered from an ED and how that fueled her to create To The Bone. Lead actress Lily Collins, who plays Ellen, has spoken out about her experiences living with an ED and how that compelled her to be part of this project. Not that instances like those make certain depictions of things okay in similar situations, per se (still side-eyeing ’13 Reasons Why’), but they help not to cheapen what the film is trying to accomplish. In other words, while your truth and experiences may be different to theirs, it’s all still the truth.
Fortunately I’ve never been diagnosed with anything, much less an ED — that is to say, in any official capacity. But I know I don’t have the most healthy relationship with food and exercise. When I was younger I had to be rushed to the hospital and given an IV for not eating. I was what so many just referred to as a ‘picky eater,’ while I know I’ve had thoughts similar to these characters’. I know I’ve tried to hide my habits and I know I’ve felt the societal pressures. I believe if anyone has been through or done the same, this film will hit you hard and the hits will keep coming — but stick with it. It may be hard to see those parts of yourself reflected onscreen, but the payoff is almost therapeutic.
The script doesn’t hold back in the least; it’s an honest portrayal of one girl’s struggles with anorexia, while she has a front row seat to the struggles her fellow ED sufferers face as well. Doxon seems cognizant to include as much representation and as many variations of EDs as is realistic for the short amount of time a film is allotted, and the actors’ performances lend more life to them beyond what they’re given.
And the portrayal of the rest of Ellen’s family? Just gut wrenching in its pain and honesty. It’s desperate and impatient and confused and it hits the nail on the head — even if it ends better than the norm would have it. It’s a good, clear insight into what every side is feeling, if the most painful part to watch of the entire film.
I could have done without the seemingly random romance (although Luke, played by Alex Sharp, was a fun and charismatic character with a welcome twist), but I acknowledge that it was important for the characters’ development, and in showing that you can still fall in love like anyone else when you have an ED — just don’t expect anyone else but yourself to save you. Other people may give you hope to go on, but ultimately the desire to get better has to come from within.
I wouldn’t say this is an easy watch by any means, but I would say it’s well worth it. Warning: you’ll probably cry. There are a few lines during Ellen’s therapy that dig their hooks into you and stay with you, but the message behind them is far more important than the brief shock that accompanies them. I know the world has started to be more careful with the things they’re saying and how politically correct they are, and while To The Bone dances on the edge, go into it with an open mind. This is a story told by people who know and understand, who have been through it themselves, who have made themselves vulnerable enough to put that experience out there for the whole world to consume — which is scary enough as is. That affords respect, something they do treat this story with. It may be a while before I’ll rewatch it, but it’ll stay with me for even longer.
Favorite moment: “Can anyone tell me why we’re here?” “Because we’re alive.”
Featured image courtesy of Gilles Mingasson/Netflix.